Three weeks of relative quiet have worked wonders in Israel.
True, there have been a few terrorist attacks, even fatal ones. But the daily number of terrorist alerts--one of those statistics Israelis have learned to study carefully in the morning paper, like the amount of rainfall in winter and the water level of Lake Kinneret--is down from some 50-70 to around 20. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas talks an anti-terrorism line that many Israelis thought they would never hear from a Palestinian leader.
The improved security atmosphere has encouraged the economically deprived, such as single mothers, to demand a better deal and stage dramatic marches to Jerusalem that have pushed security news back to page five. Perhaps most impressive of all, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has exploited the ceasefire achievement to begin mending fences in Europe.
But unless both Israelis and Palestinians begin genuinely delivering on the hard and fast demands of the roadmap, this is liable to prove a false spring. True, the Palestinian Authority has carried out vital reforms and reduced violence and incitement. And Israel has withdrawn from the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem and is releasing some prisoners. But Palestinians have yet to seriously commence "dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure" and consolidation of all security organizations into three services that report to the minister of interior. And Israel has not "taken all necessary steps" to help the Palestinians, nor has it frozen "all settlement activity," including the immediate dismantling of all "outposts erected since March 2001."
Perhaps the biggest problem in judging and facilitating the two sides' performance is that it is not only the roadmap that determines the standard of judgment. Each side has a silent partner, who in many cases is far more influential and important than the letter of the roadmap.
Prime Minister Sharon has United States President George W. Bush. Sharon insists openly that his actions (or lack thereof) regarding a settlement freeze and removal of outposts are based not on the roadmap, but on an agreement with Bush. Hence when the settlements continue to expand and new outposts replace the few that have been removed--and Bush offers no objection--Sharon is not cited for a major violation. The same, obviously, is true regarding release of Palestinian prisoners, which in any case is referred to only obliquely in the roadmap (through mention of the Tenet plan): from Sharon's standpoint, this is primarily an Israeli-American issue, not a roadmap or Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Sharon and Bush appear to have more or less agreed that the other three partners in the Quartet (the United Nations, European Union and Russia) that authored the roadmap are of no consequence, and that the roadmap itself is little more than a loose framework, to be modified by bilateral American-Israeli agreements. Palestinian and Quartet protests over the course of the security fence or "wall" had no effect on Sharon until Washington asked him to freeze construction in order not to interfere with the roadmap. In this regard it appears to be more important for Sharon to receive high marks from the administration, whose backing he considers absolutely essential, particularly if and when the roadmap fails, than to make peace with the Palestinians.
At least Bush is committed to the roadmap, to democracy and to defeating terrorism--none of which is the case with Abbas' silent partner, Yasir Arafat. It is primarily Arafat who thwarts the efforts of Abbas and his security chief, Mohammad Dahlan, to consolidate the security services and extend his authority to places like Jenin. It was Arafat who maneuvered Abbas into resigning from a central Fateh decision-making institution in protest at challenges to his judgment.
Arafat is not a signatory to the roadmap, and will readily sacrifice it if he thinks Abbas is usurping too much power in order to implement it. Bush, on the other hand, remains committed to the spirit if not the letter of all three phases--though how committed, and for how long, are matters of conjecture.
In the final analysis, then, no progress report on the roadmap can be complete, simply because the roadmap is only part of the story. What happens between Abbas and Arafat will determine whether or not the Palestinian leadership fights or abets terrorism. And the degree of bilateral pressure Bush is prepared to apply to Sharon will determine whether or not settlement activity is rolled back, prisoners are released and additional territory is turned over to the Palestinians. Together, these dynamics will chart our shared course in the coming weeks and months--toward stabilization of the situation, or a return to terrorism and war. The outcome is by no means certain.
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
The ceasefire agreement that was agreed upon by all major Palestinian factions several weeks ago is viewed by Palestinians as a miracle. Prior to this watershed, it was difficult to imagine the possibility that these groups with such differences of opinion on practical and strategic matters might come to a consensus--never mind one that would hold.
True, this surprising consensus is driven by a wide range of objectives. Each faction or leader has hopes of gaining in a particular way by pursuing the ceasefire. Many are adhering to the ceasefire because it will allow the Palestinian leadership to fulfill a major obligation of the roadmap plan: to "end armed activity against Israelis anywhere." Others are seeking to pressure Israel towards reciprocity, which, according to the roadmap, means "ending violence against Palestinians everywhere." But there are still other Palestinians and Palestinian factions who are adhering to the ceasefire because they feel that the majority of the Palestinian public wants to give the ceasefire a chance. These factions want to appeal to the Palestinian majority.
Needless to say, officials in the Palestinian Authority view the ceasefire as a means of fulfilling Palestinians’ obligations, particularly pertaining to security, that are written into the roadmap. At this moment, it is difficult for the Palestinian leadership to do much more than ask Palestinian factions for a ceasefire, since there has been very little reciprocity by Israel that would create an atmosphere conducive to more advanced security intervention.
Later on, the Palestinian Authority is asked to take practical measures against any person or group that violates any aspect of the roadmap and its commitments. There is a reason that this was delayed, and that is to allow the Palestinian Authority to rebuild its security apparatus (which, according to experts here should take six months and requires that Israeli troops withdraw to allow for the free passage of Palestinian security officers). The additional time is also intended to reap some political achievements for the Palestinian Authority which would give the leadership political capital to invest in the second phase, a period focused on maintaining law and order, re-establishing a single authority and other aspects of public security.
What is needed now, in order for the ceasefire to stick, is a series of developments that would spur the Palestinian public to gain interest in the roadmap. In other words, the Palestinian Authority is arguing that the previous violence did not bring Palestinians any closer to their national objectives and that non-violence should enable them to become more effective in ending the occupation. If Israel were to fulfill its obligations encoded in the first phase of the roadmap (an end to settlement expansion, the dismantling of checkpoints and roadblocks inside the occupied territories, and the opening of closed Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem) these developments should offer enough momentum and reward that the Palestinian public will want to continue upon this path.
If this does not happen, however, and if Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is not able to show his public that non-violence is more useful than violence, and if Israel continues its ongoing campaign of arresting activists, confiscating land and imposing upon us the apartheid wall, which will encircle our communities and choke our economy, then the course of events will lead right into the hands of those who argue: "no matter what we do or do not do, this Israeli government has no intention of replacing the current violent relationship with a peaceful one."
The Palestinian Authority has no means of pressuring Israel to reciprocate with its obligations and is seeking an active American role of the kind that would deliver Israel to the roadmap in the same manner that the United States has succeeded in delivering the Palestinians to their obligations. Otherwise, the current calm, which is truly a golden opportunity for political progress, will be short-lived and end in catastrophe.
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons and bitterlemons-international.org. He is also minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet and has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
"There are no sacred dates," declared the late Yitzhak Rabin. To the extent that it is up to them, it appears that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) happily embrace this insight.
More than two months after Israel and the Palestinian Authority accepted the Bush administration's roadmap, things are moving slowly. Both sides are dragging their feet along the path charted by the experts in Washington, each constantly eyeing the other to make sure it is not lingering too far back. And since the Americans are in any case preoccupied with an escalating dilemma in Iraq, the chances are slim that a genuine effort will be made in the near term to actually compel Israel and the Palestinians to obey the administration's detailed instructions quickly and completely.
What has been achieved thus far should not be taken lightly. June 2003 is to date the quietest month since the second intifada began; incitement in the Palestinian media has almost stopped; and Israel has evacuated parts of the Gaza Strip and the Bethlehem area. But a measured examination of the main components of phase I of the roadmap indicates that it is still early even to give the two sides a passing grade.
Security. The biggest success of the process is without doubt the declaration of a ceasefire or hudna--which officially is not even part of the process. Terrorist attacks this month have killed three Israelis, but in general the ceasefire is being maintained. Order has been restored to most regions, and the daily rate of live fire incidents has dropped by more than half, to between two and five. Those attacks that have taken place were perpetrated by what the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Intelligence Directorate calls "Fateh dissidents", members of local Tanzim gangs in the northern West Bank, a rebellious Islamic Jihad cell in Jenin and members of the "popular resistance committees" who abandoned Fateh in the southern Gaza Strip. There the Palestinian Authority (PA) is hesitant to use force as long as the West Bank is still largely under Israeli security responsibility; senior Fateh officials argue that a cessation of IDF roundups of suspects there would reduce the rebels' concern for their personal security and culminate in a reduction in attacks.
But the more significant issue involves the dismantling of the terrorist organizations' infrastructure. Here the PA has done nearly nothing. Instead of arrests, terrorist militants were summoned to "warning talks," even as the PA clarified that it had no intention of settling accounts with suspects regarding past attacks. The diverse organizations are permitted for the time being to hold onto their weapons, while the commitment to unify the security branches into three roof organizations, all under Abu Mazen's authority, has encountered, as anticipated, strong resistance on the part of Yasir Arafat, to whom at least half the security units continue to report.
The humanitarian situation. Accordingly, Israel too is delaying implementation of its commitments. In the Gaza Strip, soldiers' open-fire orders have been restricted and the trip from Gaza City to Rafah has been reduced from 5-6 hours to 20 minutes. But in most areas of the West Bank nothing has changed. Most Palestinian cities remain surrounded, entrances to villages are blockaded and road travel is forbidden. Only some 20,000 Palestinians (mostly the fortunate from the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem) are permitted to work in Israel. For the time being Israel is delaying any discussion of additional withdrawals to the September 28, 2000 lines. And without such withdrawals the living conditions for around half the Palestinians are simply impossible.
Prisoner release. While this issue is not included in the roadmap, it is the most substantive of all for Palestinians. At this point Israel is prepared to release only some 350 out of around 6,000 prisoners it holds. Sharon, under American pressure, agreed to include a few dozen Hamas and Islamic Jihad detainees who have no "blood on their hands." Without a more massive release it is doubtful whether it will be possible to gain the Palestinian public's support for the process.
Outposts. Israel's performance on this issue borders on the ridiculous. One outpost, Mitzpe Yitzhar, was evacuated despite a confrontation between the IDF and the settlers, and around five were evacuated by agreement--while more than ten new outposts have been established in their place. The government shied away from touching dozens of additional outposts, and probably won't in the future either.
In briefing talks with IDF officers, Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon has advocated following two rules in ongoing contacts with the PA: meticulous insistence on the Palestinians maintaining their security commitments, alongside a display of generosity and even calculated risks with regard to enhancing living conditions for Palestinians. Of these two rules, the Israeli political echelon appears to have opted to adopt only the first.
In the coming months the roadmap will face its real test: the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure by the PA, and ongoing IDF redeployments from designated areas. Success in these two parameters is likely to produce a half-year extension of the ceasefire. Meanwhile, while it is too early to conclude that the American initiative has failed, it is still held hostage by too many lunatic elements. It has not yet developed an internal logic of its own that can edge the two sides forward. The main problems are trust in the other side's intentions--which has almost disappeared--and of course the gaps separating the two sides' positions regarding final status issues (the future of the settlements, Jerusalem, the right of return). At least under the present leaders these appear unbridgeable.
Amos Harel is the military correspondent for Ha’aretz daily newspaper.
bitterlemons: How would Hamas assess the progress and advantages of the ceasefire at this time?
Zahhar: Up to this moment, Israel has violated all of the conditions of the ceasefire, continuing with its killing, its demolition of houses and refusing to release the prisoners. Still, the Palestinian people remain committed to the ceasefire one hundred percent. We are watching the Israeli side, recording what the Israelis are saying and doing, and if it becomes necessary, we will return to an effective armed struggle.
bitterlemons: Under what conditions will the ceasefire be discontinued?
Zahhar: First, there is the three-month deadline, which we are sticking to. Second, if Israel were to carry out a massive violation, such as an invasion or dramatic killing, then we would have to consider ending the ceasefire.
bitterlemons: Do you maintain the public’s support in this?
Zahhar: We have the public’s support; we even maintain the support of the international community. The European Union has even decided not to consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
bitterlemons: How would you assess the government of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and the progress on the roadmap?
Zahhar: As of yet, this Palestinian government has been unable to achieve the base demands of Palestinians. This government is working hard, but has nothing to show for it yet. To my mind, if Mahmoud Abbas can’t produce the basic requirements demanded by the Palestinian people, he will resign.
bitterlemons: Why is the prisoner issue so important, even though it is not a part of the roadmap?
Zahhar: This is one of the tender points in Palestinian society. Since this Israeli government has taken office, it has slowly deprived as many as 70 basic rights from the prisoners. They are not allowed visits from their families and lawyers, they live off of the food given them by their families, and their clothes are those that their families have sent for them. They have been prevented from living as human beings. Therefore, the release of these prisoners is one of the most important demands of the Palestinian people.
Israel has said that it will release some prisoners, but we will not be deceived. We have lists and we are ready to give the names of those we want released. We will not be tricked. If the Israeli government is going to mislead us on this issue, the response will be a violent one and we will return to the effective armed struggle.
bitterlemons: Does Hamas ever imagine a time when it will be in the Palestinian government and the only parties carrying weapons on Palestinian streets will be the Palestinian police?
Zahhar: Yes, when our land is liberated. When we achieve sovereignty, we will demand free elections. If the Palestinian people vote for Hamas in the elections, then we will be in the government--not in an autonomy--but in a sovereign Palestinian state. At that time, the Palestinian army will carry guns and will defend the Palestinian borders, not like now where the Palestinian police are expected to spy on their own people for Israel.
Mahmoud Zahhar is a Hamas spokesperson and political leader living in the Gaza Strip.
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